Hot and cold therapy has come a long, long way.
From the frozen peas and hot water bottles of the past, we now have instant cold packs, gel packs, and clay packs to relieve people from pain, stiff muscles, and inflammation.
The question is, which hot and cold device is the best for you?
In this article, we break down the pros and cons of instant cold packs, gel packs and clay packs to help you choose the best product to suit your needs.
Instant cold packs are a great addition to every first aid kit and emergency bag. These nifty little packs don’t need a fridge to get cold--- you can store them at room temperature and simply activate its contents when you need them. Once it’s cold, you can then apply the instant cold pack to the affected area to get pain relief and reduce possible swelling, even when you’re outdoors.
But how do instant cold packs work?
Going from room temperature to almost freezing in a matter of seconds sounds like a magic trick, but the truth is it’s really more of a chemical reaction than anything else.
Here’s how it works:
Instant cold packs are actually made up of two bags inside. One bag contains water, while the other holds a chemical like calcium ammonium nitrate. When you shake or hit the pack, the internal bags break, causing the two substances to mix. This leads to an endothermic reaction which causes the pack to turn cold for several minutes.
This chemical reaction makes instant cold packs very useful when you’re outdoors and have no way of getting ice to treat a sprain, bruise or even an insect bite. These packs can stay cold for about 15 - 20 minutes --- that’s enough time for a person to receive emergency treatment for common aches and pains.
The downside to instant cold packs is that they’re not the most versatile products out there. As their name suggests, these packs can only be used for cold therapy, and not the other way around. They’re also single-use packs, so once the chemical reaction is done, you have to dispose of the packs properly. You can’t refreeze or reuse them after that.
Once activated, the instant cold pack can be disposed of safely in your trash. Avoid puncturing the bag--- although the activated contents are considered non-toxic, you still don’t want to clean up that mess.
Overall, instant cold packs are great for emergency situations and first aid. They’re not the best options for long-term relief, but if you need a cold compress fast--- this product is your best bet.
It’s safe to say that gel packs have replaced frozen peas and hot water bottles when it comes to hot and cold therapy. These packs are made from a mixture of water and other non-toxic substances that help maintain the pack’s consistency and temperature for a long time.
Gel packs also use heavy-duty, puncture-proof plastic material to prevent leakage caused by extreme temperatures and trauma.
What sets gel packs apart is the fact that they’re very versatile. Unlike instant cold packs, gel packs can be used multiple times for both hot and cold therapy purposes. If you’re suffering from a long-standing condition like arthritis and need to alternate hot and cold therapy on a regular basis, you can do so with just a couple of gel packs.
These handy products also come in various shapes and sizes--- a single gel pack can already cater to multiple body parts. This can save you a lot of money in the long run.
Other products, like ActiveWrap, also use gel packs in their compression wraps to target specific body parts like the knee or shoulder. The compression wrap keeps the gel pack in place without restricting your mobility, allowing you to heal faster.
Since you will need to freeze or heat gel packs to achieve the desired temperature, they’re clearly not the best remedies for emergencies on the field. They are, however, very useful if you’re recovering from surgery or if you need relief from chronic or recurring pain conditions like stiff muscles and joint pain.
Gel packs are very easy to maintain. When taken care of properly, they can last a long time.
If you’re mainly using them for cold therapy, make sure to lay them flat in your fridge so they remain pliant once you’re ready to use them.
You can simply wash them with water and mild soap after use. Wipe them dry before putting them back in the fridge or medicine cabinet. Do not drop or overheat your gel packs to avoid punctures.
People have been using clay for its therapeutic effects for centuries. Traditional medicine practitioners believe that when applied to the skin, medicinal clay can draw out toxins and harmful chemicals from the body.
Today, clay is used as the main component in many hot and cold packs. While gel packs use water and non-toxic substances, clay packs use a mix of ceramic clay and non-toxic oils. These unique components allow clay packs to maintain their temperatures for a longer time, promoting a gradual and prolonged healing effect.
One of the best things about clay packs is that they can mold onto the injured body part extremely well. If you’re using them for cold therapy, clay packs have the ability to stay pliant even when they’re really cold. Since they don’t freeze solid, clay packs can be molded to target hard-to-reach areas and deliver its therapeutic effects while keeping its temperature.
When used for hot therapy, clay packs have the ability to absorb and then release heat for an extended period of time. This allows the heat to penetrate deeper into those stiff muscles and joints, promoting comfort and faster healing.
Perhaps the only downside to clay packs is their weight and bulk. They are relatively heavier than gel packs and instant cold packs. Since they’re denser, they also take a bit more time to freeze or heat compared to gel packs. For comparison, standard clay packs usually take at least 4 hours to freeze, while gel packs only take about half that time. When used for hot therapy, clay packs need to be preheated for 60 seconds in the microwave before turning and heating again in 20-second durations until the right temperature is achieved.
If you’re keen on getting your own clay packs, make sure to get at least two. One clay pack can stay in the freezer for cold therapy so you don’t have to wait for hours for it to freeze. The other clay pack can be stored in room temperature as a backup for when you need a hot pack.
Taking care of your clay packs is a breeze. After using the clay packs, simply wipe them clean with a damp cloth and mild soap. Wipe them dry, put them in a plastic bag and pop them back in the freezer for future use.
If you’re using your clay packs for hot therapy, take care not to overheat your packs. Placing them in direct heat or sunlight can cause the clay to dry up. Store it in a cool, dry place, away from direct light and heat.
Now that you know the difference between instant cold packs, gel packs and clay packs, it’s time to get the low-down on hot and cold therapy itself. When do you use your ice packs? What types of conditions need a hot compress instead?
Knowing when to use hot and cold therapy is crucial--- if you apply a hot or cold pack to the wrong type of injury, it can potentially worsen the condition and prolong your recovery period instead.
Equip yourself with the right information. Here’s a quick guide to help you use your hot and cold packs properly:
Imagine spraining your ankle or taking a bad fall while playing sports. When you get hurt like this, your brain signals your body to flood the affected area with red blood cells and plasma in an attempt to neutralize the threat and bring things back to normal. This is called the inflammatory response. It is part of your body’s natural healing process, but can still be quite painful. You’ll notice that the injured area will look red and bruised. It will also be warm and tender to the touch.
To lessen inflammation, you’ll want to use a cold compress or ice pack. The cold will constrict your blood vessels and curb the flow of blood cells to the area, slowing down the inflammatory process in turn.
That being said, you should use cold therapy...
If cold packs cause your blood vessels to constrict, hot packs do the opposite. They dilate your blood vessels so more blood can pass through. This allows your muscles to relax and loosen up.
Hot therapy is best used for aches and pains that have been there for a while, like stiff joints or “knotted” muscles.
You can also use hot therapy...
Medical conditions like diabetes and Buerger’s disease can impair the person’s ability to feel sensation, especially on their extremities. In these cases, hot and cold therapy can be risky. Hypertensive patients (people with high blood pressure) may experience adverse effects as well. If you’re suffering from conditions that impair your sensory abilities or if you are hypertensive, please consult with your physician first before applying hot or cold therapy.
If you’re still using bags of ice, frozen peas or water bottles for your hot and cold therapy needs, you’re clearly missing out. It’s time to get with the program and start your healing journey with modern ice, gel and clay packs.
These products may look simple, but don’t forget: they’re specifically developed by the best physiotherapy experts to promote efficient healing. Ice, gel and clay packs are backed by studies to make them both ergonomic and functional. Some of them are used in conjunction with compression wraps to target specific body parts. Other products, like ProIce, use a patented window-type cryoblanket to ensure that it delivers consistent temperature for faster healing.
Instant ice packs, gel packs and clay packs may have their subtle differences, but one thing is for sure: you need them for hot and cold therapy. Weigh out each product’s pros and cons and see which one would best fit your needs. If you can’t choose just one, no problem! You can always get all three and see how they perform for yourself.
Have you tried using these products? What was your experience? Let us know in the comments below!